Our stories matter.
Stories are an entry point for us to become known. Where the fertile space is cleared for greater understanding, compassion and appreciation. Where others can be inspired and influenced, and connections, relationships can flourish.
My recent blog post,The Importance of Sharing Our Stories, focused on how telling our stories helps to create authentic, loving and transformative relationships with God, others and our self.
But there is a flip side to the importance of telling our stories.
For it is not just important to tell our stories, but it is equally important that others listen to our stories.
This is not just casual, superficial type of listening. It is a profound form of listening, where someone takes the time to pause, turn towards us, and become intentional about listening.
A listening with both our minds, and our hearts.
Listening carefully to what is being verbalized, but being particularly attentive to the underlying heartbeats of the words.
When we actively listen, we validate the speaker. Our attention affirms they matter. That their experiences matter. And whatever is on their heart and mind matters.
Listening is a powerful way to confirm we care. It is our assurance that we will remain steadfast, not just for the easy summer seasons, but also through hard winter seasons.
Listening well is a generous gift, one that communicates interest, compassion, grace.
I am currently taking a graduate course in seminary that is focusing on the Book of Job. In the book, Job unexpectedly faced massive losses – including the death of his 10 children, his flocks being wiped out, suffering his own illness, and being ostracized by his community. As a result, Job is suffering from debilitating grief, isolation, confusion and uncertainty.
As Job grieves, he struggles to understand God, and wrestles with trying to understand theological themes such as the brevity of life, the afterlife, and why God allows good people to suffer. Three of his companions come to comfort him, but they end up failing miserably.
They failed because they refused to listen, to sit with him in his grief. Instead, they lectured, questioned, advised, rationalized, and rebuked him. They argued with him. They blamed his sins, suggesting that they were to blame for his suffering.
Because his companions were critical and impatient, and talked more than they listened, Job ended up feeling completely unheard and misunderstood. He felt criticized and judged. Their cruelty and insensitivity ended up multiplying Job’s grief and pain.
How easy it is to be like Job’s community and companions. Where we either try to avoid someone who is suffering or if we try to provide support, we are more apt to talk than to listen. Offering what we believe is sage advice, quoting Scripture, using clichés.
It can be so tempting to avoid listening to someone’s story.
We can feel so overwhelmed with our own stories it can be intimidating to even think about stepping into someone else’s sorrow, adding more layers to our own.
Life can be busy, chaotic. We are exhausted. Schedules are tight
But, we are called to listen. To love wholeheartedly. To carry each other’s burdens. To serve one another. And wherever possible, lean in to help heal, restore, redeem.
At first, sitting with someone in their grief, and just listening, may feel awkward. It may be a new experience. It may be unfamiliar, because we are unsure about the language of loss and grief, and worry about what we should say.
So we may end up fumbling our way through. And may even end up being a bit like Job’s companions.
But, we can be certain that active listening is similar to any other skill or activity. In time, it does become easier with practice.
Eventually, we learn how to listen with open, invested, compassion hearts. Growing in our ability to accept and embrace the hard truths of another’s story.
Becoming able to breathe love and grace into others’ stories.
And in the process, we become transformed. Our hearts and hands and feet start speaking with compassion and mercy.
We just have to be brave enough to turn, and face one another. Making the choice to invest in each other, by both telling our stories, and listening to each others’ stories.
And as we engage in the mutual sharing of stories, we will open the spaces for new and promising and beautiful stories to be written.
Photo credits: Vidar Nordii-Mathisen, Nathan Rogers, Christina Gottardi, from Unsplash
Five Minutes Friday prompt: TURN